Bringing Something to the Table

Bringing Something to the Table

“Evergreen” is how editors describe it. If you manage to write something that is timeless, something that will be just as effective and potent 20 years from now as it is today, then you’ve written something that is evergreen. It’s an attribute gleaned from the eponymous plant classification that has green leaves on it all year round, which is an appropriate metaphor for how we might otherwise view the depreciating value of zeitgeist-y pieces or pop culture in-jokes. Do you think saying “said no one ever” or using “because [noun]” will still be funny in 2014? What about 2034? It’s doubtful.

With video games, we refer to games that “hold up” against the test of time, but we really mean that the mechanics or graphics are still worth noting. GoldenEye 007 for the N64, for instance, is a visual travesty at this point (though it wasn’t all that great back in 1997 either), but its multiplayer design is still worth looking at from time to time. Considerations are often made, though, in regards to solid limitations; we don’t hold the lack of 3D graphics against Space Invaders.

It’s not very often, though, that a video game largely depends on some meta-game or industry knowledge to succeed. We all too often automatically lump self-aware games in with parody games, which we almost always throw under the Bad Games banner. It’s hard to fault anyone for it. I mean, after the Matt Hazard and Postal series, can you really blame anyone? (I guess Vicious Cycle Software and Running With Scissors, Inc., but let’s let bygones be bygones.)

Space Invaders

Two of the most recent games to come out and make a splash do exactly that. One is Saints Row IV, but that still operates fine as a mechanical device without its humor. You won’t understand things like the Borderlands-esque warp tunnel when you enter and exit the digital Steelport simulation or why, exactly, it’s funny in its Mass Effect-y ways to so pointlessly and needlessly romance members of your crew. And I really doubt that once he’s retired and largely gone from fresher generations’ minds that Nolan North’s voice acting as the surprise option in your character customization will be all that interesting. You need to know his history in the industry and the impact he’s had, otherwise you’re just confused.

That said, the utterly sublime superpower mechanics and sufficiently carrot-on-a-stick-ish progression systems will undoubtedly make it a game to come back to years from now. The other game, though, is Gone Home, and it’s time is running out.

I really do think that Gone Home is a fantastic game. The last time any sort of video game made me get all teary-eyed was To The Moon. Journey made my heart do god damn flips. BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us made me reel back and take my entire life into consideration. Gone Home, in its exceptionally short three-hour runtime, made me feel and do all that and more. You should play that game now if you haven’t. There aren’t any whole cloth spoilers in this piece, but you really shouldn’t read anything about it if you plan on playing it.

Gone Home

The most obvious thing that Gone Home requires from you as a player is that of any narrative, which is the ability to accept through some proxy a story that isn’t your own. Optionally, if you are in fact a person who grew up as a girl with a taboo love in the 1990s, then fantastic! This game was practically made for you. Hell, toss out everything but the “love” part and this game still manages to connect with a lot of people. (Especially in its new realism.)

For some, though, it doesn’t. The setting of 1995 does a lot for the majority of folks that will play this game, mainly because the primary gaming demographic largely grew up in this decade as well. I was a skosh younger than Sam at that time, but not by much, and the story still hit extra hard. It took a familiar setting and introduced a foreign concept to me. Or at least foreign at the time. I was, like many children and teenagers, emotionally shallow, and this added depth to my nascent years through a different lens. It is masterful in that way.

If you weren’t born in the 80s, though, then not much can be done for you. If you’re like Susan Arendt of Joystiq, then the milieu of the 90s for you was searching for a job and moving out on your own, not coming to terms with you as a person in your awkward school days. And if you were born in the 90s or beyond, then most of what Gone Home offers you is completely alien. BuzzFeed has a list up now about the class of 2017, or the kids born in 1999. Consider the following (they won’t get that, either): none of them ever existed in a world with monthly text limits, they don’t know what the save icon is in Microsoft Office programs, and cell phones have always been in a museum.

Gone Home

They lack the foreknowledge to buy into this world. Instead of exploring a house of things you once knew and long since forgotten, they’ll be wondering why there are so many things labeled in Sharpie with movie titles (what did we call recording movies off of television broadcasts back then? Certainly not pirating, right?) and why there’s a machine in the foyer that plays voice messages. They’ll have a million tiny mysteries to address before delving into the main one about the Greenbriar family.

That, however, is peanuts to the greater conundrum. It is a concept that is currently foreseen as evergreen, but perhaps not for long. Games have for quite some time been open to a very diverse demographic, what with the plethora of sports games, driving games, casual match-three and farming games, and shooters and RPGs and the like. The chances, though, of any of them happening to stumble across Gone Home and wanting to play it are quite slim.

It is a game that appeals mostly to a very select group of gamers, which is to say the ones that might even bother reading little websites like this. Not many people would be willing to spend twenty dollars on a game that lasts about as long as a single viewing of Titanic (I guess kids also don’t know that was a real ship that actually sank), but if you are, then you likely also fit a certain mold of person.

Gone Home

This mold, or rather a framework for personality compatibility in games, might show that you grew up unpopular. Or maybe not unpopular but certainly with little opportunity to socialize through home schooling, lots of moving around, etc. You were a person who knew what it was to be the observational loner, an aspect of your childhood that perhaps left you especially open to the Forer effect and a talent for over empathizing.

And now you are back in that role. You are the silent observer as Sam’s sister Kaitlin, simply watching and reading and wandering with no real human interaction or interruptions. And you see yourself in Sam. Maybe not as someone who had to battle with a puzzled and confused identity and published a riot grrrl zine in high school, but certainly someone with a romantic vision of the world, someone who saw love and knew it was for them. Most of us playing this game likely have some sort of romanticism in us, and the story told within its narrow timeframe plays on that perhaps more than anything.

With the broadening acceptance of video games as a conduit for more than throwing digital footballs and shooting assault rifles at Nazis and Russians, it seems like an inevitability that we will soon see a majority instead of a minority deciding that twenty dollars on an indie game featuring three hours of walking and reading is a good investment. But will they still see the romantic version of the world? Will this evergreen facet of Gone Home and the people that play it no longer be green?

Gone Home

I don’t know, but we will have a lot more people to talk to about it.

I know this last bit was a broad and imprecise categorization of people that play video games, but it is also based on conversations I’ve had with roughly 20 other games writers about Gone Home. So it may not be wholly accurate, but it sure is wholly interesting based on that.

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